Tourism contributes over £126.9 billion to the UK economy, supports over 3.1 million jobs and is the lifeblood for many communities across the country. There have been record-breaking inbound visits and spend this summer, which are testament to the UK’s world-class attractions and the innovation of our tourism industry, especially in rural regions.
From January to July this year there were a record 23.1 million overseas visits to the UK, up eight per cent on the same period last year. Visitors spent £13.3 billion, up nine per cent. Forecasts predict overseas visits to the UK increasing by six per cent to 39.7 million this year with spending up 14 per cent to £25.7 billion by the end of 2017; both the number of visitors and the amount they spend are new records. The tourism sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 3.8 per cent through to 2025.
Brits are also taking more holidays at home. From January to June this year, domestic overnight holidays in England rose seven per cent to a record 20.4 million with visitors spending £4.6 billion, up 17 per cent; again a record. Steve Ridgway CBE, the Chairman of the British Tourist Authority, has said that the 16 per cent fall in the exchange rate made visiting Britain even more attractive.
Shropshire has a great number of places to visit, including historic houses and castles with beautiful gardens. In North Shropshire we are fortunate to live in such an unspoilt part of the country with five market towns and almost 100 villages.
During the General Election campaign in June, I was stopped by two Germans in Chirk Bank who were asking for directions. They had specifically chosen Shropshire when planning their tour of the UK.
That same afternoon a narrowboat full of visitors from The Wirral were passing through on the Llangollen Canal. There are over 46 miles of canals in North Shropshire and thanks to restoration efforts they are keenly traversed by walkers, canoeists, fishermen and photographers. Our canals go through Ellesmere, Market Drayton and Whitchurch which provide a much welcome boost to pubs, restaurants and shops. Local volunteers combined with lottery money have done a great job extending the Montgomery Canal towards Llanymynech. Once completed and possibly combined with the further extension of the Cambrian railway there are great opportunities exploiting the Roman history and the industrial archaeology in the area.
Rural economies will continue to diversify; we need to improve our infrastructure and create the right conditions to encourage these businesses to thrive. This includes bringing fibre broadband to holiday cottages and improving roads, such as dualling the A5, to cater for increases in visiting traffic, welcoming people to our glorious countryside for generations to come.